CLEVER Annual Meeting: In-person collaboration as the secret to catalyse innovation

In today’s tech-driven world, where Zoom calls and virtual meet-ups are the norm, there’s still something magical about good old face-to-face collaboration. It is true that digital tools have made it easier for researchers to team up from different corners of the globe, but we should not forget the unique benefits of in-person collaboration in fostering innovation and advancing the frontiers of knowledge. In-person collaboration provides an environment where minds can converge, ideas can be exchanged seamlessly, and the sparks of creativity can ignite.

The CLEVER group experienced these benefits while meeting in-person for the II CLEVER Annual Meeting, last November in Vienna, Austria, hosted by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). CLEVER is a global project, implemented by 12 participant organisations in 8 different countries, and this in-person meeting sought, in particular, to increase interaction among the Work Packages, and take quick decisive actions on future joint activities. Mission accomplished: now, scenario modellers want to consider stakeholders’ perspectives on governance, while biodiversity scientists work together with economists to combine their data; both with a plan of activities for next year.

Beyond all the scientific achievements of the meeting, the main lesson that remains for me is that while virtual collaboration has its merits, the importance of in-person collaboration in research cannot be overstated. The synergy that arises from shared physical spaces, the spontaneity of face-to-face discussions, and the depth of human connection contribute to a collaborative environment that propels research to new heights. In-person interactions allow researchers to build trust, understand each other’s working styles, and establish a rapport that goes beyond the professional realm. Cheers to the magic of in-person collaboration: the secret that will take CLEVER research to the next level.

Researchers at the II CLEVER Annual Meeting: Advances in measuring and governing impacts on biodiversity in global biomass value chains

(photos by Rosa Castañeda)

Written by Fernanda Martinelli / University of Bonn

Reflections on the global discussions on biodiversity and trade

Every September, New York City hosts the UN General Assembly and countless events on sustainable development. It is easy to imagine the city as a real debate arena, where politicians negotiate solutions for the multi-crises of the planet, while the entire world watches, expecting tangible outcomes to materialize . The debate reached its peak over a span of three days (18-20 September), when worldwide representatives had to juggle their schedules to attend various equally relevant events, such as the High-level UN Meetings (including the SDG Summit), the Climate Week NYC and the Columbia’s International Conference on Sustainable Development. I attended sessions of these three events, which made me reflect on the role of those policy meetings on protecting biodiversity under trade agreements. These are my main impressions:

There is a clear effort to respond the critic that global multilateral meetings privilege discourse over actions. The SDG Action Weekend and the Climate Week were specifically designed for participants to develop actions together, avoiding speakers to use this space only to reiterate the already-known sustainable development challenges. However, little of those actions addressed the role of trade on biodiversity loss, even on specific biodiversity events. Speakers rather emphasized trade as an instrument for boosting economic development, or, more often, for reducing emissions on agri-food systems throughout value chains. Indeed, climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, however biodiversity loss and climate change are twin crises, and should be addressed together.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s growing influence in foreign affairs has not gone unnoticed, as it assumes leadership roles within both the G20 and BRICS. With the world’s attention focused on the country with the highest biodiversity, there has never been a better time to generate knowledge in support of nature protection. Projects like CLEVER highlight the importance of conserving biodiversity under trade in Brazil while influencing the political agenda by informing policy-makers on trade’s biodiversity impacts.

I left New York City without any doubt that the intentions and knowledge to put the world back on track to achieve the SDGs are there. However, the world is in a hurry and I expect that events like these, above all, accelerate decisions to safeguard future generations. This year, the events took place against the backdrop of a year projected to be the hottest ever on record. Their results should nothing less but guide political agendas with science-based knowledge and urgency.

Learn more about the mentioned NYC sustainability events:

Written by Fernanda Martinelli / University of Bonn

Photos by Fernanda Martinelli / University of Bonn

Investigating links between trade and biodiversity

Thanks to global trade, Western societies are not only wealthy but have also access to diverse products. From diapers for our babies or diesel for our cars to the dressing for our salad – the movement of goods in a globalized world allows us to have products for consumption that would otherwise not be available. These can often be everyday products and items taken for granted, so that we don’t necessarily even think of their origins. For example, a typical home would have wooden furniture like tables or shelves. They, or parts of them, could come from wood harvested in Central Africa. Or a common meal could consist of pork meat, where the pork was fed with soymeal processed from soybeans grown in Brazil. Unfortunately, the farming or harvesting of many goods – especially those of biomass like wood or soy – can have negative impacts on the biodiversity of ecosystems, including our forests. As such, the wooden furniture we buy or the pork we eat could be associated with biodiversity loss. In other words, trade becomes the mechanism that links our consumption habits to environmental damage abroad. But, how could we benefit from trade and conserve biodiversity at the same time? 

This and related questions were the focus of attention at a two-day symposium linked to the CLEVER project, which investigates the question of how international trade in agricultural and forest non-food products affects biodiversity. The symposium, supported by “Stiftung Wissen Sparkasse KölnBonn”, a foundation, was organized by the University of Bonn and held in Cologne, Germany during 3-4 November 2022. With an international group of around 20 participants from countries like Brazil, Germany, and the UK we engaged in scientific presentations and discussions centered around CLEVER’s three main research areas: measuring, modelling, and governing non-food biomass trade and its impacts on biodiversity. Participants identified some key questions as essential to be addressed over the course of the project. For instance, we need to better understand leakage effects, which means that negative biodiversity impacts are reduced in one place only for them to shift elsewhere. To better study leakage phenomena, we need to improve simulation models, for example, by explicitly representing the key actors, such as traders and retailers, in international value chains. Biodiversity loss can also result from bioeconomy policies that promote non-food uses of biomass from agriculture and forestry, such as wood as construction material. Such policies then may have to come with safeguards to mitigate biodiversity related risks. Further discussion points were related to the design of “smart” policy mixes, i.e. the combination of regulations with economic incentives to enhance policy effectiveness. 

CLEVER was part of the Symposium on Biodiversity and Trade in Cologne.
CLEVER was part of the Symposium on Biodiversity and Trade in Cologne.

The CLEVER project will run until late 2025, during which time we will aim to answer these and further questions. Looking forward, the project also offers the opportunity to integrate across scientific disciplines, such as political scientists and biodiversity modelers, which have rarely worked together in the past.

Featured image: Alexa via Pixabay

Author: Mathias Cramm